28 May Roncevalles to Zubiri

I am out of Roncevalles very early. The lights come on at 6 AM and there is not breakfast here, so it’s up and out. I have 22 kilomtres to get to Zubiri, from which it is only one more day to Pamplona. It is a little hard to believe.

I have a brief fright just as I get up. I go the window and look out. It is still dark and it looks as if it snowed last night. The ground is covered in white and it is quite cool. It takes a few minutes before I catch on that I am looking at the white stones that cover the inner courtyard. Apparently Natalie’s father makes the same mistake at about the same time. He reports snow, she is sceptical.

The camino here to start is wide, level and paved. Then it runs through a forest and although the sun is up, there is a morning twilight in the forest. Quite an eerie effect.

After about an hour, there is a little roadside cafe where I have coffee with Patricia and Billy, the Irish couple from both coasts of Ireland and with Robert from Toronto. He is ecstatic because he has found his missing meds – in his backpack in a seldom used pocket. The German sisters pass me and one of them, Patricia, shows me a bottle of red wine that she has in a pocket of her backpack. So that is how they have resolved the red wine issue. We agree to drink it later today.

Later in the day I walk out of the woods to a vehicle set up to service the pilgrims. Again this is a good stop and I buy a drink similar to Gaterade. It tastes good and anything to boost energy is great by this time in the day. I am about to leave when Robert appears. He has been lying down, fell asleep on the grass and is walking about looking a bit stunned. Because he is wandering here and acting a bit bewildered, I ask him if he would like me to walk with him the three kilometres down a winding descending path in the forest. He says he would so that’s what happens.

We arrive in Zubiri where I have booked a bed in a gite. Robert comes with me and is able to get a bed there as well. I think he’s lucky, because beds are still pretty scarce. The gite is well done and uses pass-cards to access the dortoirs. That’s a nice touch because the town, with an industrial centre, is big enough to have people capable of theft. The German girls are here, as is the couple Marcel and Mirielle from Strasbourg and their friends from Colmar. We sit outside in the back garden in the sun and drink the red wine that Patricia has carried all the way from Roncevalles or somewhere en route.

Today I was thinking about my emotional state when I was in the gite at Orisson with all the Americans and the fact that I did not much like it. What was going on with that? I think it might have been because for five weeks I have usually been the only native English-speaker and therefore something of a rarity, unique so to speak. And apparently I don’t like being not unique.

But is my uniqueness based on my ability to speak a specific language? Surely not. And the same goes for what I do or did for a living, where I live, my age, sex, religion, and all those other groupings that we humans use to conveniently categorise others. So what makes me unique? What makes me ‘me’ and not anyone else? I thought at first that it must fall somewhere in the relationships that we have with others. But then I recalled that hermits, who may have no relationships with others, are still unique. So that’s not it.

Perhaps my sense of uniqueness is an illusion, created by the individually-focussed society in which I live. Perhaps if I lived in a densely crowded and large country like India, I might not have this sense of uniqueness. So at the moment I don’t have an answer to the question; “What makes me unique?” Perhaps a better question is; “Am I unique and, if so, how?” And an even better question is; “Does it matter that I am or am not unique? Does anything in my life or in my awareness change either way?” Things to ponder.

Later in the dortoir, one guy speaks long and loudly on his cell phone, then talks with his bedmate for another 20 minutes or so. The lights are out and the outside light is fading. The other people in the room are all in their beds, either sleeping or trying to sleep and this rather ignorant guy is either unaware or doesn’t care about the rest of us. I am really tempted to speak out; “Taise-toi” but I don’t. Eventually he gets the message and quits talking. I think he’s Italian.

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